Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Phoenix HD [Firi Games] - FREE

There aren’t many endless shmups available in the AppStore. Or on any gaming platform, period. But there is one that’s always stood out, offering up insanely addictive, along with multiple types of, gameplay; Phoenix. Now, I first got Phoenix back when all I had was a 2nd Generation Touch, and all that was included was the original Phoenix ship. Since it’s release, it received 2 more ships, it’s first real overhaul, the HD update, another ship, and then it’s second biggest overhaul , adding a 5th ship, and the introduction of coins, shop and it’s IAP system. We’ve been waiting for this update to hit before reviewing the game, mainly because we were told that it was going to be a huge update, and it was, changing the gameplay quite a bit. 

Originally, before this most recent update, Phoenix was great when it came to catering to all types of gamers, from light casual to the most hardcore bullet hell fans, and all because of it’s dynamic difficulty system. You were able to lock on a difficulty, shown by stars 1-5, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest. Now, if you decided to play on 3 star difficulty, the game would raise the difficulty if you could destroy enemies without getting hit, but once your ship did take a hit, the star difficulty would drop back down, but never go under your locked difficulty of 3. Being able to do this at the beginning of every game was great, because even non bullet hell gamers could enjoy the game, and even play for high scores. 
Now, after the update, when the game starts up for the first time the difficulty is set to 1 star. This rises depending on how well you do in your first game, but reaching the 5 star difficulty is not hard at all, which means that the game will lock in on the 5 star difficulty for your next game, and stay there until you reset the difficulty back to 1. 

Along with the new difficulty set-up, the developers over at Firi Games have added a new ship, the Trinity, to the list of ships that can be used. Like the Corsair (with it‘s missile‘s and system that allows you to lock-on to enemy‘s turrets), Mirage (using a super-powered laser system that has 3 settings, activated by staying in one place) and Shogun (a ship that attacks enemies by grazing bullets), the Trinity allows for some very distinct, unique and original gameplay. The Trinity has 2 abilities; slow down time and teleport, and like the other ships, will require some messing around with before becoming familiar with it all. Lifting your finger up off of the screen activates the slow-motion ability, while tapping anywhere on the screen when you place your finger back down will teleport the ship to that location, so long as it’s far enough away from the ship’s current position. 

Focus Vision is another new mechanic that slowly turns the gameplay area black and white, having everything but the bullets and your ship’s hitbox in the background. The way this is implemented is great, as once you reach 50% health, the gameplay area’s colors start to fade a bit, and as you loose health, it changes more and more until it’s fully black and white. Personally, I love this feature. It’s like having a full screen visual on your health instead of needing to constantly glance up at the top of the screen to see how much health you might have, you can now just know if you’re close to death by the game’s colors. This also does help players ‘focus’ more on the bullets, though, technically, you should be focusing on them the entire time you play. At first, I didn’t much care for it. Every time I was in ‘Focus Vision’ I just wanted the colors back, but with that, I realized that it’s another driving force to try and get back to full health as quickly as possible, and the Focus Vision mechanics grew on me pretty fast. 

The last real major change is the addition of the shop and coin system. Now, instead of every run being a chase for a high-score, the added coin system makes grinding a large part of it all as well, and score-chasing takes a bit of a back seat. Right now, I’m not too sure how I feel about the whole coin/shop/IAP system, because I do see both sides of the coin, very well, and agree with a lot of points for both arguments. First, before this update, Phoenix wasn’t getting too much gameplay out of me over the last couple months, and now, it feels like there’s more drive to play it, and play it more. There’s also not only the score-chasing aspect, but also the coin collecting side. Knowing that you’ve earned 3,000 coins in a great run, as well as earned yourself a great score is a fantastic feeling. But then again, there’s also the knowledge that, if you didn’t use coins to purchase upgrades in the shop beforehand, there is a significant possibility that your game would have lasted longer, and your score would have been even higher, making it feel like not every run is just for score, and that, unlike the previous versions, you need to plan out when and what you’re going to use when you will be playing for a high score. Sort of like it’s almost pre-determined, instead of never knowing if your game will be a good one, or just wind up being horrible, dying before you hit the 2 million mark. But from what I’ve gathered hearing what people have to say, most players hadn’t been playing Phoenix as much. That drive to play had been fading away for quite some time, and this addition of a shop and coin system had added a lot of that drive back into the game, and players. 

There is, of course, the addition of IAPs, but these are largely unnecessary, as 1 or 2 decent games with the coin doubler enabled will give you about 6-7,000 coins which you can use for a shot at a high-score. But, that feeling like those who are willing to pay are basically buying their high-scores can’t really be avoided, and in a game like Phoenix, or any Bullet-Hell/SHMUP, this is a VERY bad thing. Cave did a fantastic job with their implementation of upgrades/cheats by creating two separate leaderboards, and I think Phoenix would benefit greatly if Firi Games would do the same. 

On top of all of this, the leaderboards have also been redone. Instead of having lists of scores by region, now you’re able to view scores on a map. There are some gamers who are kind of upset about this for two reasons; 1) Other players are able to see what street you live on, and around about where your house is. If you live in a bad neighborhood, I can see why this can be kind of troubling. 2) The boards are now kind of hard to navigate through. You’re able to show only scores that have earned medals, or all scores, and all ships, or specific ships. Instead of just seeing a list of scores, you now have to search the map to find the other high scores, and it can be a pain finding the #1 score, or score right above yours, especially in places that have lots of Phoenix players. The up side, though, is that the leaderboards are now free for everyone, but if you previously purchased the leaderboard IAP in an older version of the game, you’re awarded 10,000 coins when you first start up the game, giving you a chance to check out everything in the shop, and give you a sort of head start on the scores. 

There are some other changes, like enemies tossing out different projectiles once you reach higher levels, that do more damage to your ship, rebalanced turrets, the EMP power-up now turns all bullets into coins (and if you activate this at just the right time, you can get upwards of 300 coins in one second!), and graphical changes making the game run smoother, and look better. Basically, this is the biggest update Phoenix has gotten since it’s HD update, and even with the HD update included, this could very well be the biggest change that Phoenix has gone through since it’s original release back in 2010. 

Phoenix HD is FREE, and Universal, giving you access to the leaderboards, shop, and original Phoenix ship. Each additional ship is $0.99, and the IAPs are split up for $0.99, $2.99 and $5.99. If you’re a fan of shmups, or are one of the hardcore bullet-hell gamers out there, Phoenix is a MUST OWN iOS game. It’s one of the very few games that has been on my device for (close to) the last 2 years, is in my personal top 10 all-time favorite iOS games, and will never be removed. Since my original purchase of Phoenix, for $0.99, and the $9 or so that I’ve put into it over the years (purchasing the ships and online pass in the original and HD builds so that I could play on both my 2nd and 4th generation devices), I feel that I’ve gotten way more out of it than I’ve paid for. There are some aspects of this recent update that I’m still adjusting to, but all-in-all, I’d say that the Trinity/Coin update is fantastic, and I can’t wait to see what Firi Games brings to the iOS in the future!

**If you’re curious to see the difference between the original Phoenix and Phoenix HD, pre-Shogun and Trinity, check out the vids below!


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